Bin Laden confirmed killed: Questions and commentary

Not long after my Twitter and Facebook feeds exploded with exclamations about the rumors and then confirmation of the news that Osama bin Laden has been killed by American forces in Pakistan, a series of questions and concerns started rolling in. Some were directed toward me specifically–I’m the go-to “expert” on all things policy and politics for many of my friends and acquaintances (and for once I can honestly say that I do have a piece of paper that confirms that I am in fact more of an expert than most people)–others were questions asked of the internet in general, and having already put some thought into it for the benefit of those who asked me directly, I found myself repeating the same answers over and over. So I figured that I would post the most complete of my responses for the benefit of anyone else who asks, and perhaps also for the sake of posterity.

This response is largely cursory and is intended to be a high-level overview of this news event for those who are not policy, political or international affairs experts. It’s also a bit heavier on speculation and lighter on facts and rationale than the analyst in me tends to like, but I figured that I’d take a page out of the cable news manual and just run with what I had for the sake of time rather than risk letting this get away from me.

Earlier this evening, one of my friends sent me the following message that said, in part:

Is it bad that I don’t know how to feel about the news? I mean, I’m not a freaking terrorist supporter. I just don’t know how to feel about reveling in the death of anyone, notorious murderer or not.

I know I’m honestly glad he’s no longer a threat (even though now his supporters are…) and that some people will feel closure/safer because of it. But I don’t feel like going out and getting drunk because of it. His death doesn’t change what happened, it doesn’t bring anyone back, I’m not sure how it’ll affect relations with the Middle East… >_<


It just happened to be that this message asked pretty much all of the questions and voiced all of the concerns that I received from everyone who asked, so this reply applies as much to those as those as it does to the message I was originally responding to. This was my reply:

A lot of people aren’t jump-up-and-down excited over this, and there’s nothing wrong with that. IMO, it just shows that you’re a thinking person. If we’d got Bin Laden 8 or 9 years ago, it would have been way more LEGITIMATELY impactful than it is now. Now, it’s largely symbolic. It likely gives a lot of people closure (hence the excitement), much in the way that people reacted over Saddam Hussein’s execution (which, despite his crimes, was nothing more than a giant, symbolic example, and IMO imprisoning him for life instead of executing him on live TV would have been a much better solution, but I digress).

Bin Laden’s death likely does have a few practical implications which I summarized to someone on Twitter thusly: terrorists will probably try some shit, some allegiances in the Middle East will shift, and Obama will very probably get re-elected. Largely because Bin Laden had become a symbol for so many terrorist and insurgent groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan (and also to some extent in Iraq, but not as much as you’d think for various reasons), his death is somewhat akin to poking a beehive with a stick. For that reason, any actions are likely to be disorganized, hastily put together, and ultimately, unsuccessful. Some small stir-ups will probably result in some civilian deaths in Pakistan, Afghanistan and other places in the region, but I foresee the impact in that regard being relatively small.

Also, because many groups have probably been clinging to the “idea” of Bin Laden evading the US for so long, and possibly that many less scrupulous individuals have been legitimizing themselves by claiming their orders were coming from him, we’ll probably see some breakdown there. Additionally, Bin Laden was reportedly found staying in some pretty nice lodging in a suburb of Islamabad, Pakistan. If that is true, the Pakistani government will have a LOT of explaining to do, and their decisions about who to ally with from this point forward will be significant.

And it’s probably self-evident, but the timing of this will do nothing but work in Obama’s favor unless he lets the Republican party pull the messaging rug out from under him AGAIN by claiming that Bush “loosened the lid” or something. But from the looks of things right this second, I don’t see that being terribly successful. But don’t take that to mean that some politicians won’t try to spin this in some really twisted and messed up ways.

Further, this will probably have no practical effect on all of the stupid “national security” measures that have been implemented since 9/11, largely because politicians will play up the “this is only going to make them madder and try harder to attack us” card. Cynical, I know, but after so much has been invested into contracts and pork and bureaucracy, scaling it back or dismantling it will be a ball of wax all its own that no one will want to touch.

Additionally, I came across a pretty good analysis of this┬áby Keith Olbermann who, despite his blowhardishness sometimes, is rather politically astute. I agree with pretty much everything he says in the first half of the article, and he hits on a few things that I probably didn’t articulate quite as well in my haste to write before my thoughts got too dispersed.

He does get a bit partisan in his tone in the second half of the article (pretty much everything following the picture from the Correspondents’ Dinner), but there are still a couple of good takeaways in those paragraphs, particularly the warnings about politicians attempting to re-write history in their attempts to spin the news to their advantage.

Anyway, those are most of my initial thoughts on all of this. I’m excited, not so much in the “Georgia Tech just beat UGA in football” kind of way, but more in the “I am seeing history and something that’s been anticipated for a long time” kind of way. I get the same excitement over big storms–they’re huge and awesome and amazing and you want to watch them (or at least I do), but they have the potential to stir up some serious shit.

 

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1 Response

  1. Cat says:

    Want to address your response on a few levels (and I use too many words, why I’m not a successful blogger):
    “national security”…that’s a rabbit hole that we’ve gone & can never be filled in (also see all government entitlement programs). The unfortunate thing about government is that once programs are started it is impossible to end them or downsize (mainly because of public opinion when people lose their jobs, etc).

    My next is as a victim of violence. My cousin was brutally murdered in a house on my aunt & uncles property. Her killer remains unfound. It was not a crime of randomness, her killer drove down the driveway past the main house to where she was staying. My cousin was a missionary who traveled to dangerous places and was killed on a farm in south Fulton County, GA. Seeing your family photos on “Unsolved Mysteries” is never comforting, even when you know the episode is airing. Having been to victims groups and spoken with other murder family members, there are a few ways families feel about their killers. It is a great feeling when the person that you know killed your child/spouse/mother/father/partner etc has been convicted of that crime. It is healing to know that they will receive punishment. When a killer is sentenced to “life in prison” there is an amount of glad & sadness. Some people feel guilty wanting someone else to die. (I think I would struggle with this if given the choice) and some feel glad that their family member’s killer will die at the hands of the state. The thing about “life in prison” is that it often isn’t until the end of life. (See the Pan Am Flight 103 bomber & countless others).
    As a victim of a personal violent crime-I wish that the person that hurt me could have the death penalty. I will never recover from what happened. He gets to live and that cracks me. I know that I will most likely never see him again and I know that I have rights as a victim, but there are still times when I see someone on the streets and my breath stops. I’m terrified that I might encounter him again or that he might do what he did again. That is something that will never go away.

    As far as imprisoning a terrorist (or dictator), there is always the risk of their followers/worshippers trying to free them. (I think we’ve all watched enough bad movies to have seen this happen). Our government would rather see people killed directly as opposed to hostages that could be released contingent on freedom for a prisoner. With hostage situations it is much easier to blame the government, “they could have released bin Laden or Saddam and my relative/friend/innocent Americans/innocent non-Americans would not have been killed.” Think of the outrage that other countries would have when the American government didn’t “save” their citizens by releasing terrorists.

    Celebration- I think some of it has been grossly inappropriate. However, the man who launched two wars is dead. (I care not to argue whether or not George W. Bush made good choices, the fact is that the actions of Al Qaeda on September 11, 2001 gave enough reason/excuse for Afghanistan & subsequently Iraq-slippery slope of the Middle East). The wait has only grown our anticipation and our desire to see justice for those who died on September 11, 2001, every soldier in the region, and others. For Americans as a whole this is seeing our family member’s killer die.